As the Wandsworth Arts Fringe opens for its ninth year, Steph Siegle finds out what visitors can expect from the 2018 festival

 

A play in a prison; cutting-edge contemporary circus; an opera co-written by artificial intelligence… once again, Wandsworth Arts Fringe (WAF) has curated a programme of unique performance art for the residents of, and visitors to, the borough of Wandsworth this month. Yet the people behind WAF are equally resolute that this arts and culture festival remains as accessible as possible, on all levels, to all people.

 

Festival producer Cath Mattos explains how its eclectic programme means there is something to appeal to everybody. “Firstly, this festival is widely accessible in terms of budget; there will be plenty of free outdoor events over the course of the three weeks, and even the ticketed events are, on average, between £6-£10,” she explains. “And we’re doing a lot more work to ensure our shows are as accessible as possible to people with disabilities. There are shows with British sign-language performances and relaxed performances, and we’ve been working with companies such as Be:U Fest, a young people’s programme focusing on opportunities for both abled and disabled young people of all abilities to showcase their talent.”

 WAF – supported by Wandsworth Council, Southside Shopping Centre, Putney BID and the Arts Council – is also determined to take the festival to people living in harder-to-reach areas of Wandsworth. New for this year is the concept of ‘WAF on Wheels’. Cath explains how a special red van will travel to various places around the borough. “Artists will have a 15-minute slot, they take the van out, open it up on a high street, set up chairs around it and that will be the stage. Expect to see children’s theatre, poetry, magic, comedy and dance.”

Between 4 – 20 May, more than 170 events are set to take place across 64 sites, including many free family events in the borough’s parks. One of the key highlights will be WAF’s tribute to 2018’s 250th anniversary of the circus, as The Big Top pitches up in Battersea Circus Garden at Shillington Gardens. Expect jaw-dropping acts, including acrobatic family The Hogwallops, where high-level acrobatics meet physical theatre. Another Big Top highlight is Fauna, where talented acrobats draw on parallels between human and animal behaviour. “We’re hosting some truly innovative circus performances, but there’ll also be a circus family fun day outside the Big Top, to try out more traditional aspects such as juggling, hula hooping and so on,” Cath adds.

This year has also seen the largest number of venues taking part in the fringe’s history, a telling sign of how WAF has really taken hold of the borough’s imagination. “Venues have seen how the festival can attract a different audience to them,” Cath says. “Hosting performances means you can show what
the venue can do and highlight what it’s doing over the rest of the year.” As well as pop-up venues such as the Big
Top, performance anarchists Fragility takeover the Arches
at St Mary’s Church, Putney and The Cats Back, Wandsworth Town; the first-ever
opera to be co-written by artificial intelligence, I: The Opera, will take place at Balham Bowls Club; and the play Traitors, Cads & Cowards will be performed by the Irish London Theatre Company, at the chapel at HM
Prison Wandsworth.

“It’s not just about providing something for Wandsworth residents, it’s about promoting Wandsworth itself, getting other people to realise they can come here rather than central London to see arts and culture,” adds Cath. “We also want people to take a risk with what they see – yes, book to see something you’re interested in, but then try something new that you’ve not heard of before.” 

Fast facts

• When?

4-20 May

• Where do I buy tickets?

Online at www.wandsworthartsfringe.com; at Battersea Arts Centre; phone 020 7223 6557. Book to see three different shows and get a 10% discount, book five and receive a 20% discount

• Where can I find out more?

Online, but you can also pick up brochures within the borough’s libraries, cafes and venues that are hosting events

• How can I follow on social media?

Twitter: @WAFfringe #WAF2018; Facebook: wandsworthartsfringe